Muscle building and fat loss are the two most sought-after fitness goals among active people of all ages, and they’re usually achieved separately, often losing fat first and then building muscle, or alternating between the two.
But did you know that you can actually achieve both at the same time? You can do this by following a strategic body recomposition plan! There has been some doubt about whether or not this method works because of how conflicting both goals are when paired together. Muscle growth typically involves a calorie surplus, while fat loss involves a deficit. But it is possible to achieve both, it just requires meticulous planning and a lot of patience!
Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about body recomposition - from what it is, how it works, how long it takes, to how to get started so you can start achieving your fitness goals!
What is body recomposition?
To understand body recomposition, you need to know what body composition is first. To put it simply, body composition is the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in your body, or the amount of fat that’s stored in your body in relation to your fat-free mass (or lean tissues) such as your muscles, bones, organs, ligaments, and even the water that’s in your body. Contrary to popular belief, your body weight doesn’t dictate how healthy you are, it’s your body composition that truly matters. That’s because taking into account your body fat percentage vs. lean body mass better reflects your overall health, and it’s what you should be measuring if you’re on a fitness journey looking to get lean.
Therefore, body recomposition, also known as body recomp, is simply changing the composition of your body by focusing on losing body fat and gaining lean body mass, specifically muscle mass, simultaneously. During this process, you might not lose weight at all because you’re just replacing one kind of body mass with another.
It’s important to note that weight loss and fat loss are not the same and that staying the same weight or even gaining weight does not mean that you’re not making progress. You’re growing new muscle while you lose body fat in the process, and muscle can weigh a lot. You might not notice any big changes on the scale, but your general physique will definitely change. Your body will look and feel more firm, and your shape will look more sculpted because of the change in your body composition. And that’s not even mentioning how good it feels to get stronger!
But now, the million-dollar question…
How long does it take?
Well, just like with any other fitness goal, body recomposition takes a little while. You can’t expect to get lean in just a couple of weeks because your body is undergoing two different processes and you need consistent training and healthy eating to get to the point where you start seeing progress. If you have a higher body fat percentage, it might take longer to reach that point, but even then, those who are just starting their fitness journey (weightlifting and eating healthy) will have an easier time with body recomposition because there’s more room for change.
On the other hand, people who have already been weightlifting for a year or more and have developed a decent amount of muscle mass will struggle more with body recomposition since their fat mass to lean mass ratio has already shifted, so making progress gets more difficult with time. That said, each body is different, so there’s no real answer to the “how long” question. It could be 2 months, it could be 6 months… It all depends on your current body composition, how hard you train, and how well you eat. But you shouldn’t rush your body, remember that progress doesn’t happen in a day!
How to get started with body recomposition
Healthy eating and consistent training are the two pillars of any fitness goal, and body recomposition is no different, you just need to combine your fat loss efforts with your muscle-building efforts if you want to make it happen. That said, there are a few things that you should keep in mind if you’re serious about achieving body recomposition:
Keep a small calorie deficit
The thing about calories and body recomposition is that you need a caloric surplus to build muscle mass and a caloric deficit to lose body fat… So, which one is it?
Although it can be quite conflicting, that is not the absolute rule. Ideally, for body recomposition, you should maintain a small calorie deficit - not too much that it gets difficult to build muscle, but enough to lose fat in the process. This is because you can still achieve muscle gain on a calorie deficit, but it gets harder the more you restrict. A large calorie deficit can cause muscle loss. Keeping this in mind, the golden ratio for an effective calorie deficit for body recomposition is usually between 10 and 15%. To calculate this, you first need to know your maintenance calories, which is the number of calories that you should eat in a day if you’re just trying to maintain your current physique since you’re not focusing solely on losing fat or building muscle, but in both.
To find out your maintenance calories, go to the Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator and answer a few questions about yourself, such as your age, weight, body type, and activity level - and don’t forget to choose “maintain” as your goal! Our Macro Calculator will give you your maintenance calorie results, and you can then take this number and apply the calorie deficit to it. If you’re a man at 10% body fat or below, or a woman at 20% body fat or below, you should aim for a 10% calorie deficit. On the other hand, if you’re above those percentages, you should aim for a 15% calorie deficit. We know that this sounds confusing, so here’s an example:
Let’s say you completed all the questions on the Macro Calculator and you found out you need to eat 2,400 calories per day to maintain.
If you’re a woman at 20% body fat or below, you should maintain a 10% calorie deficit. 10% of 2,400 is 240, so you need to subtract 240 from 2,400, giving you 2,160. This is the number of calories you should eat in a day.
If your body fat is above 20%, then you should aim for a 15% calorie deficit. 15% of 2,400 is 360, and 2,400 minus 360 gives you 2,040 calories that you should eat in a day.
The same goes for men, following the 10% body fat rule instead of the 20% for women. Keeping track of your calories will help you significantly in your body recomposition journey, so make sure you take it into account!
Consistent strength training
There’s no building muscle if you don’t train them, and weightlifting is definitely the best way to do so! Additionally, lifting weights helps you burn fat in the process, making it a key element of body recomposition. But it’s not only about simple weight training - it’s about training hard!
Ideally, you should focus on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once (big and small), to make sure you’re hitting every muscle group in your body within a single week of training. You should aim to have at least three lifting sessions a week! Following a body part training split will have you training between 4-6 times a week, but it really comes down to a matter of personal preference and the amount of time you have to dedicate every week. If you can’t train often, do three full-body workouts a week. If you have time, find an appropriate training split for your goals and schedule your workouts accordingly. Just remember to allow for enough recovery time in between sessions, and keep a good intensity!
For volume and intensity, aim to do around 15 sets per muscle group at 65-85% of your one-rep max is a good combo for the muscle-building part of the journey, giving your muscles a good burn without overtraining them.
Limit your amount of weekly cardio
Cardio is great for burning calories, so you naturally would think to include some in your weekly workouts, and while you’re not wrong, doing too much cardio could actually hinder your muscle-building progress! It’s no use to lose fat if you’re not building muscle, at least not during body recomposition, so you need to be careful with the amount of cardio that you do weekly.
High-intensity cardio can be very demanding, leaving your body exhausted and using the resources that you’re giving it for muscle-building to recover from your cardio instead. Having said that, getting rid of cardio is not the solution, since cardio helps burn fat and is incredibly beneficial for your cardiovascular health, which translates to better resistance training workouts. The optimal way to incorporate cardio into your routine is to do it on different days from your weightlifting days so you have enough time to recover, or on the same day but after you lift weights, so you can spend most of your energy building muscle first and then finish your workout by burning a few more calories with light-to-moderate cardio such as inclined walking or jumping rope. And always keep your cardio sessions shorter than your lifting sessions!
Eat enough protein
Even though all micro and macronutrients are necessary for a healthy and well-balanced diet, your main focus during body recomposition should be protein. Protein is the building block of muscle as well as every other body tissue, so if you’re looking to change the composition of your body and build lean mass over fat mass, then a high-protein diet is the way to go, not only for muscle-building but for fat loss too!
If you prioritize protein intake and make sure that a big portion of your daily calories come from protein sources, you’ll have a solid base for your fat loss goals that you’ll be able to achieve without risking muscle loss in the process. Since you’ll already be in a calorie deficit, you want to make sure that you support your muscle-building efforts in some other way other than weightlifting, which is why protein is encouraged for lifters and active people who are trying to get toned. Remember, a nutrient-rich diet is as important as your workouts if you’re trying to achieve any fitness goal!
Take care of your body
This one is always essential, no matter what your goal is. You need your body to be healthy in order to reach your goals, and this means taking good care of it and giving it the rest that it needs - after all, recovery is when muscle-building happens! During rest, your body starts repairing the damaged muscle tissue and building lean muscle mass on top of it, which is what we call muscle growth. Rest also gives your fatigued muscles, ligaments, and even bones some time to relax after an arduous workout before working out again, because you don’t want to get into a workout still feeling sore from your last one! A lack of rest could hinder your progress by decreasing fat loss and inhibiting muscle growth, even leading to injuries in the future. So make sure you get around 7-9 hours of sleep every night!
Aside from sleeping, living a stress-free life can do wonders for your health, but we know this can be difficult to achieve. Between work, your workouts, and if you have kids… Stress might be a part of your daily life, and some stress factors can be more manageable than others, so when you find yourself in stressful situations that you can’t get out of, try your best to remain calm. The stress hormone, cortisol, has been linked to weight gain, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and other health problems such as heart disease, digestive issues, and much more, so you’ll want to avoid elevated cortisol levels in your body if you want to stay healthy to achieve your goals.
Body recomposition might sound complicated at first, and figuring out the details can surely be, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying it if you’re looking to burn fat and build muscle for a leaner body! With enough dedication, you’ll find yourself changing the composition of your body in no time, just try to follow the above guidelines to make sure you’re on the right path to success. And if you want ideas on how to build your weight training program and a place to track your calorie intake and your diet in general, check the Fit With Iulia app!
Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts each week to help you get better and more effective results in your fitness journey, and the app also has a feature called Kitchen where you can log your daily meals for more accurate calorie tracking. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choosing a goal, and starting your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!